Furusato Festival 2018

All this week, the Furusato Matsuri (home town festival) is being held in the enormous Tokyo Dome. It’s mainly an excuse to sample local delicacies from all over the country, but plenty of mascots can be seen milling around there. I went there on Sunday, and here are a few of the characters I encountered:

A melancholy duck with a leek for a tail, Gaya-chan (left) is the mascot of Koshigaya City. Tairyouhousaku-kun (right) is the Furusato Festival’s mascot.

The ubiquitous Kumamoto Prefecture mascot, Kumamon, clowns around on the stage.

Ikaaru Seijin the alien squid hails from Hakodate, Hokkaido.

Lerch-san is perhaps Japan’s tallest mascot, and promotes skiing in Niigata Prefecture. He is modeled on Theodor von Lerch, an Austro-Hungrarian soldier who introduced skiing to Japan.

Shimanekko is a cat with a shrine roof for a hat, and the mascot of Shimane Prefecture.

Kii-chan, the mascot of Wakayama, is excited about 2018 (it’s the year of the dog).

Potato-headed Hinojaga-kun, from Tokyo’s Hinohara Village, pretends to give a speech.

CHI-BA+KUN, a dog in the shape of the outline of Chiba Prefecture, promotes the Aqua Line Marathon to be held later this year.

Public-Spirited Japanese Mascots Shovel Snow

When it snows in Japan, the local mascots can sometimes be seen supporting their communities by helping to clear the snow from roads and pathways. Perhaps this is because the costumes are the warmest clothes available. Here are a selection of cute characters shifting snow.

1. Yabee Bear
2. Otocky

3 . Cup Noodle

4. Kumamon

5. Happy-Ryu

6. Gensan

7. Togoshi Ginjiro

8. Jigen-kun and Shironyan

9. Hikonyan

10. Koakkuma

Japanese Mascots: The Year in Review 2017

2017 was an eventful year for mascots in Japan. Let’s look back at some of the highlights.

Chiba Lotte Marines’ Mysterious Fish

This spring, the Chiba Lotte Marines baseball team introduced a highly original new mascot to the world. Surely the first mascot to evolve before the audience’s eyes, The “Mysterious Fish” is an angler fish that vomits out its own skeleton, which then runs off on two legs.

Grulla Morioka FC Mascot, Kizuru

Another striking sporting mascot to debut this year was Morioka Grulla Football Club’s giant paper crane, Kizuru. Funds for Kizuru’s costume were raised by crowdsourcing. The Kizuru costume was an impressive sight, but his head fell off during his first ever performance.

Gunkanjima Mascot, Gansho-kun

A new mascot for Nagasaki’s spooky abandoned mining island, Gunkanjima was unveiled in July. Looking like Jabba the Hut, Gansho-kun’s lumpy brown body was inspired by the brown rock of the island. The island has a dark history (Korean immigrants were forced to work in the mines unpaid) so there were complaints that Gansho-kun was inappropriate, and he has kept a low profile since then.

Tarao-kun, mascot of the Babel art exhibition.

Throughout the year an exhibition of 16th Century paintings, titled Babel, toured the country, and a mascot was made to promote it. Yes, even an exhibition of renaissance art has a goofy mascot in Japan. Tarao is a fish with hairy human legs and is inspired by a Bruegel etching.

The drone version of Yukimaru-kun

Meanwhile, the locals of Oji City, Nara Prefecture, were wowed by a drone version of the city’s popular dog mascot, Yukimaru. The flying pooch waggles its legs as it glides through the air.

Tokunoshima mascot, Mabooru-kun.

The tropical island of Tokunoshima also introduced a marvelous new mascot in 2017. Mabooru-kun is a bull who looks decidedly grumpy about being slowly devoured by a massive snake. The Tokunoshima government are hoping to attract tourists to the island with their new PR mascot. Highlighting the threat of being killed by the snakes that live on the island is certainly a novel approach.

Kan-chan, mascot of Ichijiku Pharmaceuticals

Another new character who made a splash this year was Kan-chan, mascot for Ichijiku Pharmaceuticals, purveyors of enemas and fig-based laxatives. Accordingly, Kan-chan is part-fig and part-enema, with a bit of penguin mixed in for cuteness. Making a colon-cleansing device adorable is quite an achievement.

Sugitchi retires.

While we said hello to so many new faces in 2017, we also bid farewell to a veteran mascot. Sugitchi, the cedar tree mascot of Akita Prefecture, retired in November after a decade of hard service. Apparently, the Akita government had only licensed the character from its creator for 10 years.

Yuruchara Grand Prix champion, Unari-kun, is celebrated with a parade in Narita City.

The dream of every Japanese mascot is to win the annual Yuruchara Grand Prix. Winning this popularity contest, in which members of the public vote online for their favourite local character, is the pinnacle of mascotting achievement. This year’s champion, announced in November, was Narita City’s Unari-kun, who polled 805,328 votes and beat 1,158 rivals to the top spot. He’s a hybrid of an eel and a plane, but is more often mistaken for a penguin. Narita City held a parade for the returning hero a week after his victory.

Candidates to be the 2020 Olympic mascots

And finally, in November, the shortlist of potential mascots for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was released to the public. Elementary school students throughout Japan will be voting for their preferred candidates, and the winning pair will be announced on February 28th.
The country waits with baited breath, and next year looks set to be another vintage year for Japanese mascots.

Minamo and Kitokito-kun

Last weekend I ran into a couple of regional mascots by chance in Sangenjaya, Tokyo. Minamo, the mascot of Gifu Prefecture, and Kitokito-kun, the mascot of Toyama Prefecture, were both there at a joint promotional event for their hometowns.

Minamo

Kitokito-kun

Kumamon Exhibition in Matsuya Ginza Deparment Store

An exhibition of pictures and memorabilia related to Kumamoto Prefecture’s beloved bear mascot, Kumamon, is currently being held in Tokyo’s Matsuya Ginza Department Store. The exhibition is free and will be held until December 28th. Items on display include illustrations and life-size models of Kumamon, photographs from his recent tour of France, and several costumes worn by the photogenic bear. I went along today and enjoyed it immensely.

World Mascot Summit 2017

Koakkuma, Funassyi, and Akkuma rock out on stage.

The annual “World Character Summit” took place last weekend, in Hanyu City, Saitama. It’s Japan’s biggest gathering of mascots, attracting 360 assorted yuruchara from all over the country. Kumamon was absent this year, as was the newly-crowned Yuruchara Grand Prix champion, Unari-kun, but most of the other well-known characters were there, posing for pictures with fans and performing on stage.  It was a nice sunny day and I had a ton of fun. Here are a few of the mascots I encountered:

Sanuki, the udon noodle fairy.

Kure City’s dance-loving mascot, Kure-shi.

Gatagoro, a fish from Saga Prefecture’s Ariake Sea, and mascot-loving pop-idol, Yufu Terashima.

Teletama-kun, the cracked-egg mascot of Television Saitama, poses next to a sweet set of wheels (a Ferrarri 308 GTS).

Kamagaya City’s mascot, Kamatan, shows off a fancy classic car.

Akasaka Man strikes a pose.

Kaparu feeds Inanosuke his cucumber.

Hii-kun, Muu-chan, and Kaa-kun, the three dancing dogs from Miyazaki.

Huge party goods store mascot, Pier Nishiki, meets tiny kimono-clad safflower, Oke-chan.

Riku, Umi, and Sora, the self-defence force mascots for Saitama Prefecture, look like an awesome rhino version of the Village People.

Jepilie is the mascot for Japan Property Returns.

Ryuouh Sakura-chan in traditional dress.

Chip-kun, dabbing.

Bonsai-kun, a rhino with a bonsai tree instead of a horn.

Kumokkuro the cloud child (mascot of the Shibuya Flower Project, who plant flowers in the city) meets Peccary (mascot of both Japan’s Ecuadorean embassy and the city of Bizen, in Okayama).

Honda mascot, Kurutam.

Oyamakuma, the pink-cheeked bear from Oyama City, Tochigi.

Funyassi, Isa-King, Funassyi, Chicchai-Ossan, and Funagoro put on a show.

Spanky, Shinjou-kun, Osaki Ichibataro, and Nonko act out a sketch.

Tsurugon (with Shimaneko behind him).

Nakanon: a giant, waddling lotus flower fairy from Nagaoka, Niigata.

Mandarin-orange-headed Ehime Prefecture mascot, Mikyan, and his evil nemesis, Dark Mikyan.

Looking like an indecisive person’s Halloween costume, Francoise Biwa (mascot of Minamichita, Aichi) is a loquat tree fairy, and self-proclaimed princess of the fruit kingdom.

Tokoron Joins a Samba Parade


Tokoron, the lovable of mascot of Tokorozawa City in Saitama Prefecture, celebrated his seventh birthday last weekend. Tokorozawa is the home of aviation in Japan and was the site of the country’s first airport, and thus Tokoron is a human/plane hybrid.

Last month I was lucky enough to witness the spectacle of Tokoron exuberantly dancing in a parade. An incongruous but entertaining part of Tokorozawa’s otherwise traditional annual festival is the samba parade, so Tokoron was dressed in a flamboyant carnival costume. I salute whoever danced for hours in that cumbersome costume.

Multiple Mascots at the Koenji Festival

C.H.Lion Rag Baby (the mascot for Ken, the guitarist from the band, L’Arc en Ciel) flanked by the melon-bodied bear brother and sister, Mero and Cosumin, the mascots of Kawasaki’s Miyamae-ku.

A big festival was held last weekend in trendy Koenji, Tokyo, part of which was a gathering of mascots in a small park. Hosting the event was Koenji’s own Psyche Delhi-san, a glowing-eyed yuruchara in a turban. This was a fun event, because a lot of obscure and unusual mascots were present. Bad weather cut the day short, but I managed to see a encounter a few unique characters.

Teruru braves the rain.

OMC-kun, the debonair raccoon dog from Yamanashi’s Southern Alps, draws a portrait for a fan.

P-kun, the mascot for the P Ark pachinko chain, plays on a spring rider in the park.

Daikon-chama meets P-kun.

Ino-chan and Manabu are the mascots of school uniform makers, Tombow.

Ishinomaken makes cartoon noises when he moves.

Akabou-kun is the mascot for a removal van company.

Daikon-chama, unofficial mascot of Koenji’s Ota Ward.

Japanese Mascots Play Soccer

Yuruchara team photo

Today in Tokyo, several mascots got together to play soccer near Osaki station. Osaki’s mascot, Ichiban Taro, was there, as was reigning Yuruchara Grand Prix champion, Shinjou-kun the extinct river otter.

It was more of a penalty shootout than a match, with mascots pairing off to compete against each other until a winner could be decided. The eventual winner was the local TV station mascot, a yellow dog named Shinagawan. At one point an anthropomorphic tomato slice named Tomato Ningen missed the goal and the ball hit me. This is a high-risk hobby.

Shinjou-kun shoots and scores.

Nonko scores a goal.

Harajuku Miccolo and Momo compete to win.

Local mascot Osaki Ichibantaro displays some fancy footwork.

Mascots in Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Softkuri Inu, Haniton, Umeneba-chan

An environmental-conservation-themed event took place today in the picturesque Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. The event was called the GTF Green Challenge Day, and various eco-friendly mascots showed up to lend their support, including spherical yellow Fukushima mascots Kibitan and Yuzutaro.

Here are the yuruchara I managed to encounter:

Naraha City’s citrus-fruit-headed mascot, Yuzutaro

Ibaraki Prefecture’s Natto fairy (and girlfriend of Nebaru-kun), Umeneba-chan, stretches to her full height.

Shibuya’s pink ice cream/dog/dog poo, Softkuri-Inu, topples over.

Anthropomorphic honey toast character, Haniton

Shinkyu-san is the mascot for a campaign to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It must be hot in that costume!

Biodiversity mascot, Sato-kun

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